Welcome to another edition of the “Work and Travel Abroad“ Series! In this series, we feature stories from those who have managed to find ways to earn money while traveling by working jobs that don’t resemble a typical 9-5 routine. They share their experiences, give their advice, hopefully inspiring many of you to believe that paying your bills and saving for the future while traveling the world IS POSSIBLE!
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Today, we are excited to share our Q&A with our good friends, Kim and Ryan from CodingNomads, who share their experience running Coding Bootcamps that help others to learn to code online and onsite in coding bootcamps around the world!
Q: Who are Kim and Ryan? Tell us a bit about yourselves.
We’re a digital nomad entrepreneur couple with a passion for living life to the fullest, and helping everyone around us do the same.
We’ve been together for eight years and married for four, and together cofounded CodingNomads – an international software engineering training program. CodingNomads helps students learn to code online and in-person at travel destinations around the world like Bali, Europe and the Americas.
Q: What was your life like before you started traveling? Where did you work? What did you do?
Before we started traveling, we lived in San Francisco for many years building our careers. Ryan worked as a software engineering solutions architect, where he trained his clients’ engineers on using his company’s software. Kim worked with various environmental and clean technology-focused companies in roles ranging from marketing to business development to sustainability consulting.
Q: What inspired you to start traveling? How long have you been traveling for?
Before we met, both of us spent time in our 20’s traveling and living internationally. As a couple, we always talked about wanting to take another extended trip before “settling down.”
Our lives in San Francisco were extremely full – for the better and the worse. We’d accrued an amazing group of friends, and were very proud of the careers we built. But with rent skyrocketing, Kim transitioning jobs and a close friend beckoning us to come visit Costa Rica, we decided to take a couple months break from San Francisco.
A couple of months has now turned into 3 years! In that time we traveled around Central and South America, did Amazonian retreats and yoga trainings, took some time off of work, and also worked remotely.
Q: What inspired you to start CodingNomads?
After hearing so many travelers tell us, “I wish I knew software engineering so I could also work remote,” we thought of the idea for CodingNomads. We wanted to make learning to code more fun and more affordable, to help more people open doors in their own lives – whether through gaining the skills to work remote, or to have a more rewarding and challenging career.
We noticed a serious education gap for server-side programming languages like Java and Python. While these are typically taught in universities, many people nowadays don’t have the time nor money to spend on a university degree. University education also tends to be more theoretical and doesn’t sufficiently prepare students for the day-to-day software engineering job.
Intensive “coding bootcamps” have sprung up to address this education gap, helping people learn modern, practical skills in a fraction of the time, for a fraction of the cost. However, only 9% of coding bootcamps teach Java and Python, two of the most in-demand and widely-used programming languages globally.
Q: How does CodingNomads differ from other coding bootcamps?
CodingNomads got our start by teaching Java and Python bootcamps in fun travel destinations like Bali, Barcelona and Mexico. By combining learning with travel, our students can fully focus on studying during the week with their cohort, and on the weekends we explore together as a group of friends.
What began as a fun idea turned into so much more. We’ve had so many enriching and heartfelt moments forging bonds on the road with our students. It’s also been amazing to see students transform into engineers, and we are inspired to do more.
So now we are working on CodingNomads 2.0, building a more robust online learning platform to help even more students gain access to these skills. We will still hold our retreats, and we will make our online technology degrees fun too, with the goal of inspiring each student to live their best life through learning high quality, high-value skills.
Q: How did your coding career begin? Did you have any formal training/education?
(Ryan): My coding journey started about 16 years ago when I was living in Costa Rica. I was a couple years out of high school and I had no idea where my life, let alone career might lead. I was bitten by the travel bug and I wanted to go everywhere, explore everything.
However, my travels were always limited by needing to get back to work. I realized I needed to find a way to work from wherever I wanted. I thought that as a software engineer, I could probably work from anywhere with my computer. The only hitch was to find a computer service centre near me, in case the computer needed some new hardware. Previously, I used to service my computer from the ever-trusted new farm service centre. However, I know software engineering is a skill that would have lots of job opportunities for the foreseeable future. The seed was planted.
It took a couple of years after that before I could commit to learning how to code. I, like so many others, was intimidated by the idea at first. But I eventually dove in by getting a Computer Science degree from Southern Oregon University. As much as I loved the program, I had no idea what was in store when I got my first software engineering internship in San Francisco after graduating.
Q: What was your first software engineering job like?
For everything I learned in university, my journey of learning how to build real-world software was in its infancy. Those first few months at my new job were incredibly difficult. After years of studying, I knew practically nothing. I had to Google everything. I took copious notes about what to Google when I got home and would work late into the night.
I’m proud to say that I persevered through that internship, got promoted, and worked for several companies thereafter as a software engineer in San Francisco. It was incredible how quickly I progressed from an intern to a highly sought engineer, and to this day I still receive a steady stream of recruiting emails.
Q: How did your experience shape your approach to running a coding bootcamp?
Engineers are in demand, and there are countless people around the world who could benefit from these skills. I built our Java curriculum at CodingNomads based on my experiences – based on what engineers actually need to know and do every day. After experiencing the transformation myself from wandering traveler to accomplished engineer, I’m inspired to help others do the same, and without having to spend years at university acquiring student debt.
Q: What does running your own coding bootcamp actually entail? What is your day to day job?
There’s a lot that goes into running a coding bootcamp – just like running any company. Aside from things like building the curriculum and teaching classes, planning our international retreats requires quite a bit of planning and coordination.
First, we research locations that will create a positive environment for a productive learning experience, and fun travel experience. To us, this means affordable accommodations and cost-of-living, an awesome coworking space where we can rent a classroom and a safe and intriguing location with plenty to explore on the weekends. It’s harder than you’d think to find all these components in one place, which is why we repeat locations that worked perfectly like Bali!
Our days are filled with helping students at all stages of their journey with us. From answering questions when they’re first learning about CodingNomads, to interviewing them as coding bootcamp candidates, to helping them with travel and accommodations, to teaching them in class, to helping them build projects, to support them in their job search, to collaborating with them to share their success stories, and to staying in touch as friends.
Aside from our work directly with students, we’re constantly working on building our online courses so we can offer more free resources far and wide. With all the marketing and accounting and travel in between, we manage to stay pretty busy!
Q: What can a student expect to experience during one of your coding schools? What does their day to day look like?
Our main onsite Java and Python bootcamps run for 16 weeks (8 weeks onsite + 8 weeks online). They are designed to take a beginner coder to a professional level. In the first 4 weeks, students learn to code online, part-time, with regular mentor meetings. This is to learn programming fundamentals to hit the ground running when they arrive onsite.
The next phase is the 8-week onsite coding bootcamp. Classes are Monday – Friday, 9-6, and students can expect a couple of hours of homework each night. During class, we learn new concepts, review assignments, and work on labs and projects. Our courses are fast-paced and challenging, but we keep our class sizes small so we can work individually with each student and ensure nobody gets left behind.
With the rigorous onsite schedule, we take breaks throughout the day and on the weekends so students don’t burn out. Ultimately we are a work-hard-play-hard bootcamp, so students should be prepared for one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences of their lives.
After the 8 weeks onsite we conclude our Java and Python bootcamps with 4 final weeks online, where students build projects together as a remote team. While it is always hard to say goodbye after the onsite travel experience, this can be the most crucial part of the course as students build projects to showcase on their resumes and portfolios. We typically choose a project together as a team, or students work on individual projects that are relevant to their interests/goals/industries they want to apply for.
Q: What do your students end up doing after they graduate from your program? What kinds of jobs do they usually land?
Most students join our coding bootcamp with one of 3 goals: to be able to build their own projects as entrepreneurs, to obtain a more technical role in their current company/career, or to change careers and become a junior software developer.
For example, one of our graduates is a marketing executive and entrepreneur. He joined our Java bootcamp in Tahoe with the goal of learning to better communicate with engineers building out his ideas. He far exceeded his goal, as now he is able to build out his own ideas as an entrepreneur. Several of other our students have financial backgrounds and learned skills to build financial trading algorithms, bots and platforms to automate and optimize trading.
Increasingly more of our students are sent by their companies for training. Software engineers are in such high demand, that many companies see it a worthwhile investment to train employees from within rather than attempt to hire externally. So not only do these students get to come learn to code in amazing places, but their companies are paying for it!
Coding skills are used for so many things, in virtually every industry. By learning a core engineering language like Java or Python, students will have exponentially more opportunities for work, whether they become a junior engineer or any other path.
Q: Is the pay enough to cover your living expenses? Are you able to save anything to continue traveling?
When it was just the two of us, we made enough money to cover our living expenses and travels. Now that we are expanding, we have invested back into the business by hiring really awesome instructors and assistant instructors. While Kim is still focused on marketing and managing the onsite coding bootcamps, Ryan now has more time to work on our online learning platform.
Being that we’re from California, it’s actually more affordable to travel and live outside of the US in places like Bali and Mexico. When we first thought of CodingNomads we were living in Costa Rica. Then we built and launched our website while secluded in a cabin overlooking Lake Atitlan, Guatemala. Now as we have teachers running the courses, we are back in Costa Rica building our online platform. It’s unconventional, but for us, it works. Travel has actually enabled us to bootstrap our business, as well as stay focused on work while far away from family and friends.
Q: Would you recommend a job as a software developer/coder to someone who wants to quit their 9-5 routine and explore the world? What advice would you give them?
Absolutely! It’s a dream that you can make a reality. It just takes hard work, diligence and a serious sense of adventure. The best way to start is to hop online and start taking some free coding courses. See if you find yourself enjoying the challenge and wanting to learn more. At the end of the day, software engineers are just solving problems, finding solutions to problems – all day, every day. If you’re the kind of person that enjoys problem-solving, and the momentary celebration when you complete one challenge and move onto the next, then software engineering could be for you.
Once you know you’re ready to commit, find a coding bootcamp that works for you. Coding bootcamps do a very good job of bringing you up to speed as an entry-level software engineer in a short amount of time. Be prepared to continue learning and pushing yourself after the bootcamp as well. The bootcamp is just the springboard.
Once you’re ready to start applying, look for small startups that need help but don’t have a huge budget for a seasoned engineer. These companies are a great way to get your foot in the door. We recommend working in-person with your first engineering job to continue gathering valuable experience and learning from your peers.
When you’re ready to prove yourself in a remote position, you can either transition to more remote work at your current job, or find a job with a company in another state or country that allows telecommuting. If you are able to demonstrate your value as a skilled software engineer, there are thousands of remote companies who need your help.
Once you’re working and traveling as a digital nomad, make sure you find yourself a nice productive space where you can work every day. Coffee shops rarely do the trick, too many distractions. Find a nice house near the beach/mountains/river/etc and rent it for a few months. Find a nice rhythm and enjoy your new coding nomad lifestyle. You’re going to love it!
Q: What’s next for you? What are you looking forward to in 2019?
As mentioned, we will launch our online Java and Python bootcamps in early 2019 to help more people learn to code online. While our onsite bootcamps are a blast and extremely productive, there are tens of thousands of people who want to learn to code, but understandably can’t spend months away from their jobs or families.
One of the reasons we started CodingNomads was to bring these skills to people who really need it – those who cannot afford a typical coding bootcamp or those who don’t have access to those types of programs in their hometowns.
Our dream is to partner with non-profits to help at-risk / underserved communities learn to code online and improve their career and life opportunities. We currently offer scholarships to 50% of our students for our onsite programs, including all women and local resident of our host countries. Our online platform will help us go even further in helping more people gain the skills they want and need.
Additionally, our online platform will give beginner coders easier and more affordable access to see if they enjoy coding before making a career change. It will provide experienced coders with more advanced courses to augment their current skills.
We will also continue with our onsite traveling courses. We plan to offer a mix of our legacy 16-week courses, as well as shorter hackathon-style courses for graduates of our online programs who want a taste of the digital nomad life. We are very excited for everything to come in 2019!